How Not To Sell a Wine:
- Put a South African white wine in a Bordeaux bottle
- Disclose no grape names on the front label
- Have the current release be the 2008 vintage
If you think I’m being glib, these sentiments came straight from Anthony Hamilton Russell, owner of South Africa’s Hamilton Russell Vineyards, along with Southern Right, in the Walker Bay region. (Also, tongue was a bit in cheek regarding these statements.) He was at Seattle’s Wild Ginger (where I was invited to join a lunch) talking here specifically about a third undertaking, Ashbourne, and the white wine described above. It’s certainly, as Russell candidly noted, not the easiest bottle to sell. It is the definition of a labor of love.
I found it to be one of the most geekily satisfying white wines I’ve come across in a long time. You get it in front of the right people (nerds) and they will go nuts. (Buy it now while it’s at a great price. Wine Searcher is showing around $20 for each of these vintages. FEEL THE POWER OF THE SALES TECHNIQUE THAT IS FEAR OF LOSS!)
We were served two vintages of this Sauvignon Blanc-dominated white wine:
- Ashbourne Sandstone 2008: 77% Sauvignon Blanc/20% Chardonnay/3% Semillon, 12.5% alcohol
- Ashbourne Sandstone 2009: 88% Sauvignon Blanc/12% Chardonnay, 12.95% alcohol
The first thing that surprised me about the Ashbourne Sandstone is that there is no oak on the wine. How could a six, let alone seven-year-old unoaked Sauvignon Blanc hold up?
Both were remarkably fresh. The 08 was a little funky but after getting some time in the glass and (open) bottle became quite, dare I say, beguiling. The 09 had much more of a POW! impact smell and taste-wise. Very nice!
The Ashbourne Red is Pinotage-based. Before you roll your eyes and snatch away your glass, Russell defended this much-maligned grape while discussing the Southern Right Pinotage 2013. All those nasty bits you get from this grape? Faults that do not lay at the foot of the variety, but rather at the winemaking. Russell also suggested adding the Southern Right to a blind tasting; popular guesses range from Barbera to a Cotes-du-Rhone.
[Fun Pinotage sidebar: It’s a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, so why is it called Pinotage? Well in South Africa, Cinsault was (strangely) called “Hermitage” so there you go.]
The Ashbourne Red 2007 reminded me of Lebanon’s Chateau Musar; had a oxidized quality to it. Very mature-tasting. The 2008 was more Bordeaux-like with lots of nice minty notes on the finish.
Other afternoon wine highlights:
Southern Right Sauvignon Blanc 2014: Damn, this is delicious! Savory notes and a touch of green bell pepper. Dynamite value; this will impress people and you’ll spend less than 20 bucks. Nice label, too. Definitely in the Wine Value Hall of Fame. (Kickstarter coming for the building construction.)
2014 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay: Very chalky (good) with great zip. Wonderfully elegant and perfectly balanced. Deft with the oak.
2014 Hamilton Russell Vineyards Pinot Noir: Lively, with elegant yet non-wimpy tannins on the finish. Some lovely mint happening, too.
Let us conclude this South African wine journey to Walker Bay via Seattle via the internet via the blogworld with some thoughts from Russell:
Like fine literature, #PinotNoir “shouldn’t jump out at you….You have to spend time with it.” –Anthony Hamilton Russell
— Jameson Fink (@jamesonfink) July 29, 2015
Amen. Now go read Madame Bovary.